Christmas Values: On Epiphany, a belated DAY TWELVE

Friends, after faithfully keeping alive the twelve days of Christmas, I failed on the actual day 12 (January 5). Today is Epiphany, the celebration of the day the wise men, magi, kings, magicians arrived from Persia to honor the Messiah born in Bethlehem.

The most poignant, profound poem ever written about Epiphany is T. S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi which can be read here or listened to here.

This whole series on the Twelve Values of Christmas has been an effort to reclaim the actual season of Christmas throughout its duration. I think we long for it. I don’t think we really do want to pack everything up on 12/26 and start cleaning up. I think we want and need to luxuriate in the richness of Christmas, of hope, of generosity.

I think commercialism has robbed us of the chance to honor Advent as a season of anticipation so that we might experience Christmas fatigue.

And so I chose this year to luxuriate a little. Thank you for joining me.

Two last reflections so we can carry this with us:

In the brilliant words of Howard Thurman, the real work of Christmas is begun now:


Christmas values – Day 11: Overcoming fear

A friend of mine has vowed to recognize every action as an act of love or reaching out for love.

She vowed that in the midst of the Ferguson and New York protests and possibly even after the police shootings that was followed by some truly alarming statements by Fraternal Orders of Police and police officers’ unions (the Bay Area’s statement was somewhat tame in comparison) about the need for a police state and unquestioning loyalty to the police. (Another friend explained that they were doing what unions do — assuring their members that they have their members’ backs under any circumstances, in ways that can be alarming or seem entrenched and militant and hostile to outsiders; he noted that teachers’ union statements can come off as militant and unyielding as well, although I bet they don’t talk about teachers as the only barrier against anarchy and chaos and the only line of defense of civilization.)

I would like to be as compassionate as my friend, because in my heart I believe that is true; it’s just that many of us have been scarred so much that our expressions of love or need for love have become misshapen in some incredibly problematic ways.

And so my intermediary step is this: I’m going to start trying to find compassion for the FEAR that underlies aggressive language and behavior. (more…)

Christmas values – Day 10: Generosity

We cast a whole bunch of shade at a particular character from the Christmas story, and I have a theory as to why; it’s the same reason conservative Christians love to focus on homosexuality as a sin. It’s a situation far enough removed from our own that we can see it as wrong. (I have some friends who think a lot of the people loudly arguing against homosexuality are denying their own homosexuality, but I think Joel Osteen is a good example of someone willing to condemn homosexuality which Jesus never talked about while preaching a subtle version of prosperity gospel that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus because he is removed from the humanity of LGBTQ folks but not removed from money.) Or, if you feel I shouldn’t be picking on a real life human being, it’s like the Hans Christian Andersen story The Garden of Paradise, where a prince has contempt for Adam and Eve for not skipping the apple when there was so much abundance to chose from (until his own Eden offers the guiles of a woman he shouldn’t pursue).

There’s a story from later in Jesus’ life that I think we need to bring to the Christmas story. It’s the story of the woman caught in adultery and the rock and the “whosover is without sin” and so forth. Cuz the innkeeper is an easy target, and we keep acting like we would all have kicked someone out of a room for the pregnant teenager and her woodworking boyfriend. Here’s what I’m talking about: (more…)

Christmas values – Day 9: Gloria in Excelsis Deo!

“Why do you think churches led by people of color are thriving while a lot of White liberal churches are dying?” asked a student at a class where I was on a panel of people of color representing the racial/ethnic ministries of our denomination. The person who asked is a friend of mine whom I value, who is going into the ministry, and whose church full of kind people was preparing to close.

The other panelists talked about the depth of faith of those leaders and their courage in talking about faith as opposed to White people. I was intentional not to contradict them, so I paused before adding my own comment:

“There is a sense of urgency in our communities,” I said heavily. “When we experience oppression daily, the hope that can be found in church is necessary. The challenge of the liberal White church is that it has forgotten the urgency of what it has to offer. The values of inclusiveness, of fighting for justice, of worshipping a God of the oppressed, those things are literally life-saving, but because of White privilege, the church has been lulled into a false complacency that is literally costing lives as well as souls.”


Christmas values – Day 8: Community

Do you see it? Do you see who shows up for the very first Christmas?

We’re so used to the image that we don’t even notice what’s crazy subersive about the melange of folks kicking it at the manger, but this is as close to Burning Man as 1st century Judea would have gotten (except markedly more diverse; trust a real live Burner of color on that one). (more…)

Christmas values – Day 6: Charity

“Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father.  He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

It feels like at this time of year, liberal or conservative, we all grow a little more tender hearted towards those in need.

Ok, our definitions of who is in need are sometimes head scratching: a friend of mine in the midwest recently started pastoring a church that runs a toy drive among its working- to middle-class congregation (a lot of nurses and administrators and so forth), with the toys going to their own children at the church’s big Christmas celebration. When he asked about whether they might want to give to children in real need, maybe through the town’s fire and police annual Toys for Tots project, they stroked their chins and acknowledged that one year, they did give the leftover toys to charity.

But that congregation notwithstanding, we all donate a little more and smile a little more and hope it all balances out when we claim our tax deductions in April.

Of course, there are some people who worry that even this season is becoming less charitable as a warped version of free market capitalism becomes laudable in certain circles (what Ayn Rand horrifyingly referred to as “the virtue of selfishness”). Witness here Jimmy Kimmel’s rendition of the Fox News interpretation of It’s a Wonderful Life: (more…)